"It is still the case now that numbers were lower than they were back in the 1990s," he said. "But right now we're just about where we were in 2006 to 2008, and we may need to identify additional ways to reduce contamination, as well as heightening awareness among consumers about the importance of thoroughly cooking and safely handling ground beef in their own homes."
A general measure that combines sickness from six key pathogens that are usually transmitted by food decreased 22 percent from the late 1990s, but really hasn't changed since 2006 to 2008, he added.
Last year, the highest incidence of foodborne illnesses caused by Cryptosporidium and bacteria other than listeria and Vibrio was among children younger than age 5. The highest incidence of illnesses caused by listeria and Vibrio was among seniors, according to the report.
Tauxe noted some caveats in the results. Surveillance data do not cover the entire country -- only about 15 percent of the population. Some of the illnesses are also acquired from sources other than food, and norovirus ("cruise virus") isn't covered because it typically isn't tested for in clinical labs.
Also speaking at the conference was Dr. David Goldman, assistant administrator at the Office of Public Health Science, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
"We have seen that there have been some positive trends . . . but compared to recent years we have seen some troubling trends that we continue to address," Goldman said.
In 2012, the USDA added six strains of E. coli in its industry testing of beef-trim products, he said, and the agency continues to evaluate data and is considering testing of other beef products.
They've also tightened standards for salmonella and implemented new Campylobacter standards for plants producing chicken and turkey, Goldman noted.
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